There are five fingers (also known as digits) attached to the human hand. The four fingers can be folded over the palm which allows the grasping of items. Each finger, beginning with the nearest to the thumb, has a name to distinguish it from the rest, which are the index finger, middle finger, ring finger, and little finger.
A broken finger is a fracture in one of the bones in any of your fingers. Thumbs have two bones, and the remaining digits have three bones. Broken fingers are common injuries and typically occur from sports injuries and accidents, such as a door slamming on a finger, or a fall. Crush injuries may seriously damage blood vessels and nerves near the fracture. The break may be a complete or a partial fracture of one or more of the bones in your finger.
The amount of combinations and types of hand fractures is infinite. The following terms describe how broken fingers are categorized…
The method of fracture
- In an avulsion fracture, a ligament or tendon and the pieces of the bone it attaches to pull away from the main bone.
- In an impacted fracture, the broken ends of a bone drive into each other.
- In a shear fracture, the bone splits in two when a force causes it to move in two different directions.
Involvement with skin
- In an open fracture, the bone breaks through your skin and creates an open wound.
- While in a closed fracture, the bone breaks but your skin remains intact.
- In a displaced fracture, the bone breaks into separate pieces that move and no longer line up.
- In a non-displaced fracture or stable fracture, the bone cracks slightly or completely but doesn’t move.
Causes & Symptoms of a Broken Finger
Common causes include falling awkwardly on an outstretched hand or being struck with an object. The severity of the injury and the strength of the bone affected are also factors that determine whether a break will occur.
It can often be difficult to determine whether a finger is actually broken because most of the symptoms are very similar to injuries such as dislocation or a sprain.
Generally, a broken finger can be:
- Painful to touch or move – The pain will worsen significantly when you attempt to move your finger, especially if you try to form a grip on an object.
- Sudden swelling in comparison to your other fingers – Visible bruising around the point of the fracture will appear rapidly, almost instantly. This happens because when a fracture of any sort occurs, the fractured fragments will bleed into the tissue; hence what forms the bump and bruising.
- Difficult to move – A loss of motion / ability in the finger is common. It is less common for someone to experience a complete loss of motion in a broken finger, and this is typically an indication of a more severe fracture. A broken finger will generally remain usable, albeit through intense acute pain.
- Feeling of being pierced through – It may be apparent that your finger is deformed as a result of the injury. With more severe broken fingers, you may experience the end of the bone piercing the skin; this is also known as an open fracture.
- A tingling sensation, or numbness – This occurs as a result of the restricted blood flow to the finger.
Given you’ve had a chance to compare your injury to the above symptoms, if you do believe you have broken your finger then it is still essential that you seek out medical advice. As with any kind of fracture, putting off a professional diagnosis just prolongs the risk of a poor recovery. Here are some risks of a delayed diagnosis regarding a broken finger:
- Loss of motion – You may not retain the same ease of use in the afflicted finger.
- Disability – In most severe cases, you may completely lose the ability to use the afflicted finger.
- Insufficient healing – This can lead to weaker bone structure and disfigurement.
Who gets a Broken Finger?
A certain number of risk factors increase the risk of breaking your own fingers. Not everyone with risk factors will get a broken finger. Risk factors for broken fingers include:
- Recreational activities without proper hand protection (such as using power tools)
- Sports activities, such as football and basketball
- Calcium deficiency
How Does it Affect You? How Serious is it?
Most severe breaks, however, can take much longer to fully heal. Despite other broken bones, patients sometimes do not view broken fingers as a serious injury; an outlook that could lead to delays in diagnosis and potential complications.
Here are some complications that could be lead after a broken finger:
- Joint stiffness – This is the most common potential complication of a broken finger. It is caused by scar tissue formation around the breaking point, in addition to the prolonged immobilization period. Physiotherapy may be required to regain full range of motion and reduce swelling.
- Post-traumatic Arthritis – This occurs when joint surface cartilage wears out during the bone healing process. Although this complication cannot be prevented, it can be treated.
- Osteomyelitis – This bone infection can occur when a broken finger requires surgery to fix injured skin or the fractured bone. Surgery may be required to fix injured skin or the fractured bone.
- Rotation – This can occur when the fractured bone rotates during the healing process. The complication can lead to deformity and decreased ability to grasp with the injured finger. Because rotation issues are not always apparent during finger extension, patients should make a fist and see how their affected finger handles the bending.
- Non-union – This occurs when the two ends of the fractured bone fail to grow back together. Two reasons for non-union include; i. skin tissue getting stuck between the bones at the time of fracture, and ii. bone fragments being too far apart to fuse back together.
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation
If you have symptoms of a broken finger, your doctor will most likely obtain an X-ray to help determine if there is a fracture. Not all fractures show up accurately on a single X-ray, so it may be required to obtain multiple X-rays in different angles if the diagnosis isn’t clear.
Examination of the injured finger is very helpful to guide treatment. An examination can help determine if there is a shortening or rotation of the digit as a result of the injury. An examination can also be helpful to ensure there is no tendon damage or other injury that could alter the treatment recommendation.
If the fracture involves a joint, it is important to ensure that the joint surfaces line up well. On the X-ray, your doctor will examine the joints of the fingers, and make sure there is no irregularity of the joint surface.
Secondly, it is very important to know if the fracture is stable or unstable. To determine the stability of a fracture, your doctor will look at the pattern of the break on an X-ray to predict if the fracture will tend to slip out of position over time or stay in a stable position. Lastly, your doctor will search for deformities of the finger such as shortening and rotation. Your fingers on the injured hand should line up the same way as the fingers on your uninjured hand.
This means if you straighten out all your fingers on both hands, they should come to the same comparable length. Also, when you make a fist, your fingers should not cross, they should line up parallel to each other. Crossing of the fingers while making a fist is an indication that there may be a rotational deformity caused by the fracture.
If the joint surfaces do not line up well, if the fracture is unstable, or if there is a deformity that needs correction, surgery may be required to allow for optimal function after healing of the injury.
The first critical treatment step for any finger injury is immobilization. You need to keep the finger in place to allow it to recover. Your doctor may recommend a cast or splint depending on where and how severe the fracture is.
For a stable fracture, a simple splint may help immobilize the fractured finger. There are also specialized splints available for fingertip and thumb injuries. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a cast up to the elbow to protect the finger and let it heal, even for stable breaks.
Depending on the type of severity of the fracture, you may need surgery to put the bones into alignment. Small devices, such as pins, screws, or wires, will be used to help hold your fractured bones together.
After reduction, immobilization, and 4-6 weeks of healing, the prognosis for the bones coming together and healing properly is excellent for a fractured / broken finger. The most common problem encountered after treatment of fractures in the fingers is joint stiffness.
By immobilizing the fingers, the capsule, and surrounding tissue from scar tissue around the joint; it becomes a race to properly heal the bone before the joint becomes too stiff and a decrease in motion occurs.
Many patients may require physiotherapy for range of motion exercises. Stiffness and swelling are of great concern and may be long-term reminders of the injury.
Here are some examples of typical rehabilitation exercises for finger fractures:
First, place your hand flat on a table, palm down. Then, lift and lower your affected finger off the table. Repeat this exercise 8-12 times a day.
Place your good hand on a table, palm up. Next, put your hand with the affected finger on top of your good hand with your fingers wrapped around the thumb of your good hand like you are making a fist. Slowly uncurl the joints of your hand with the affected finger where your fingers connect to your hand so that only the top two joints of your fingers are bent. Afterward, move back to your starting position with your fingers wrapped around your good thumb. Repeat this method 8-12 times a day.
With your unaffected hand, grasp your affected finger. Your thumb will be on the top side of your finger just below the joint that is closest to your fingernail. Slowly bend your affected finger only at the joint closest to your fingernail. Hold this position for 6 seconds before repeating 8-12 times a day.
Place your good hand on a table, palm up. Then, put your hand with the affected finger on top of your good hand. Use the thumb and fingers of your good hand to grasp below the middle joint of your affected finger. Finally, bend and then straighten the last two joints of your affected finger. Repeat this exercise 8-12 times a day.
Imaginary ball squeeze
Pretend that you’re holding an imaginary ball. Slowly bend your fingers around the imaginary ball and squeeze the ball for 6 seconds. Then, slowly straighten your fingers back to the starting position as if you are releasing the imaginary ball. Repeat this method 8-12 times a day.
Place a small towel roll on a table. With your palm facing down, grab the towel and squeeze it for about 6 seconds. Finally, slowly straighten your fingers to release the towel. Repeat this exercise 8-10 times a day.
Begin by folding a small towel in half and lay it flat on a table. Next, put your hand flat on the towel, palm down. Grab the towel and scrunch it toward you until your hand is in a fist. Slowly straighten your fingers to push the towel back so it is flat on the table. Repeat this exercise 8-12 times a day.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment
Once a cast or splint has been applied to your broken finger, you will likely still feel pain for at least a few days. Usually, OTC (over-the-counter) pain relievers are enough to cure pain, including NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Here are other homeopathic treatments to help reduce a finger fracture:
Elevation – Keep your hand elevated above the level of your heart as much as possible. Elevation helps reduce swelling, therefore, the more your finger is swollen, the more time it will take to heal once it is elevated.
Ice application – If you have a splint that allows you to feel the ice, consider applying an ice pack to your fingers a few times a day for 20 minutes at a time for the first few days after the fracture. This will help reduce further swelling.